Fenerbahce-Galatasaray, Celtic-Rangers, Everton-Liverpool and River Plate-Boca Juniors all rate among the most renowned and intense local derbies in world football. Yet the list would not be complete without mention of one of the longest-running and most keenly-felt rivalries of them all, the Bundesliga’s Ruhr Valley showdown between Schalke 04 and Borussia Dortmund, who cross swords for the 133rd time on Friday 20 February.
These special encounters mean more to diehard fans than any other fixture. The densely-populated Ruhr region in the west of Germany will once again become a sea of conflicting emotions and colours, when the Royal Blues host the men in black and yellow in front of the customary 62,000 full house at the Arena AufSchalke.
Schalke and Dortmund first met more than 80 years ago on 3 May 1925, when Die Königsblauen (the Royal Blues) of Schalke drew first blood with a 4-2 success. Borussia had little to celebrate for a long period after that, the men from Dortmund losing 16 of the first 17 meetings, with just one game ending in a stalemate. It is not hard to imagine the jubilation in the black and yellow camp on 14 November 1943 after a maiden derby win by the only goal of the game.
Borussia Dortmund’s first victory over their bitter rivals ushered in a spell when BVB, as the club is commonly known in Germany, provided serious competition to the all-conquering Schalke side. Borussia clocked up three championship triumphs in the regional Oberliga West, the highest level of competition at the time. Die Königsblauen had previously dominated the scene with seven titles and eight finishes as runners-up.
Facts and figures
Since then, the status of top dogs in the Ruhr has broadly alternated depending on the decade. BVB were one of the most successful clubs in Germany in the 1960s and 1990s, while Schalke had their noses in front in the 1970s and in more recent times.
A shared highlight for the entire region came in 1997, when the clubs both sealed European triumphs. Schalke claimed the UEFA Cup 4-1 on penalties against Inter Milan, before BVB beat favourites Juventus 3-1 to win the UEFA Champions League just a week later.
Anecdotes and quotes
Just a few months later, in December of the same year, the old rivalry exploded back into life when S04 keeper Jens Lehmann, up in the Dortmund box for a stoppage-time corner, struck a last-gasp equaliser to earn the men from Gelsenkirchen a 2-2 draw. To rub salt into Borussia’s wounds, Lehmann had previously spent a number of years as BVB goalkeeper. Stan Libuda, Steffen Freund, Andreas Moeller and Ingo Anderbrugge are the only other players to have represented both clubs.
"The folk here in the Ruhr valley live for and love this match," former Schalke general manager Rudi Assauer once declared. "The derby is my personal highlight of the season," agreed his successor and current Director of Sport Andreas Muller. "It’s extremely difficult to make amends for losing to Dortmund, because the fans don’t forget this kind of disaster in a hurry."
The loyalists in royal blue are certainly unlikely to forget one particular defeat any time soon: in May 2007, Schalke were poised to claim a first championship title since 1958, only for their dream to crumble and die after a 2-0 defeat to their bitter rivals on the penultimate matchday of the season.
Longevity has not doused the smouldering emotions bound up with this derby, as the most recent clash between the teams clearly showed. In September 2008, the showdown at the FIFA World Cup Arena Dortmund produced six goals, two penalties and two sendings-off. Schalke led 3-0 after 54 minutes, only to see their advantage whittled away and finally cancelled out when the home side levelled with just a minute to play.